Assassin’s Apprentice (Farseer Trilogy – Book I)
by Robin Hobb
Published March 1, 1996
Goodreads: See here
Synopsis at a Glance:
Young Fitz is the bastard son of Prince Chivalry, raised in the shadow of the royal court by a gruff stableman. He is outcast by the royal family except for King Shrewd, who has him secretly tutored in the art of assassination. For Shrewd alone knows what runs in Fitz’s veins: control of magic called the ‘Skill’, an inherited trait that has been hidden within the royal family for generations.
As barbaric raiders ravage the coastline, Fitz grows to manhood and comes to facer his first dangerous mission – a mission that will test his very soul. And though he is regarded by some as a threat to the throne, he may just end up the key to the survival of the kingdom.
I’ve had Robin Hobb on my list of authors I simply must read for a few years now, but haven’t had the opportunity to get my hands on one of her books until this month. I’m actually kind of glad that I waited as long as I did, if I’m honest, because in a way I think finishing this book required a patience and maturity on my part that I probably would have lacked had I tried to accomplish reading it years ago when it first started calling to me.
Originally published in 1996, this definitely has a different feel to fantasy that is being published right now. In a lot of ways, I feel like narratives today have a tendency to focus more heavily on the action. There’s a strong desire to hook readers earlier and earlier with fantastic and wide-reaching movement in the plot right from the beginning. In comparison, Assassin’s Apprentice has a slower, more reserved beginning that I hadn’t been expecting, and had to condition myself to appreciate. At times it bordered on too slow, but for what it all ends up lending to Fitz and the world, I think it’s worth it.
In some ways, this book ended up feeling like one long prologue to what I am positive will be an enormous fantasy adventure. There’s definitely a slow-burn set up at work here, and while I admit feeling a little bit of boredom in the first third of the book, by 30% or so Hobb starts adding in new details that set the true plot in motion and ratchet up the tension. So if you’re struggling at the start, I’d say hang in there because things definitely do pick up!
As for Fitz, I just love him. I think he’s a wonderful character and lens for the reader to learn about the world through. Hobb makes an interesting choice to center the narrative around Fitz telling the reader a story about his childhood/teenage years. Because of this, the narrative voice feels quite casual and conversational in tone, which I came to appreciate a great deal. Especially as some of the relationships and details about the world are a bit difficult to understand without his explanations. The way Fitz grows and matures throughout the story is phenomenal.
In fantasy, there’s a real pitfall that some authors fall into where they make their characters learn too much, too fast. By stretching the story out to cover the majority of Fitz’s childhood years, his growth took on a more natural progression although at times it felt a little lacking in tension. This is of course entirely personal, but when I know that a character in the future is telling a story, it removes a sense of danger from events because obviously, we know the character survives.
I will be interested to see how Hobb handles that narrative structure in the future installments though, because in some ways I feel like she might set it aside as the reader catches up with present-day Fitz and his dealings.
Hobb employs a really interesting choice here to name the royal characters in the world after their biggest traits. For example, king Shrewd is as shrewd a dude as you’d expect him to be. There are also characters such as Regal, Verity, Chivalry, and Patience. At first I thought it was kind of hokey, but it actually ended up growing on me quite quickly, and it sort of helps to so clearly paint these character’s most defining attributes through their society’s conventional naming system. It became easier to establish them in my mind than had they all been given other names, like Bob, Henry and Samantha.
Despite my reservations near the beginning of the book, this ended up being a really strong start to a fantasy series and quite a pleasant surprise. As long as you go into it knowing that it’s more a simmer and less and out-and-out explosion of fantasy mayhem straight from the start, I think you’ll discover there’s lots to appreciate here as well. I’m very keen on seeing where Fitz’s journey takes him next.
🗡️🗡️🗡️🗡️= 4/5 Assassin’s blades!
What do you think of this series? Are you a fan of Robin Hobb? Let me know in the comments section below!